Gian Wild works in accessibility at Monash University and has been heavily involved in web and accessibility standards development, including the eGovernment web accessibility toolkit for Victorian Government. The point of adhering to accessibility standards is to ensure that people with disabilities are able to achieve the same objective with a website as a person without a disability. This requirement is embodied in the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act (C’th), with which Australian organisations must comply.
At first the need to make websites, applications and user interfaces is not obvious – why spend so much effort catering for a small percentage of the population? However, as Gian highlighted, approximately 19% of the Australian population has some form of disability – including cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia, and excluding those with a minor vision impairments – such as those people who wear glasses or contact lenses.
The enforcement of the Act is done by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Their most famous enforcement act is that initiated by Bruce Maguire, who is visually impaired. During run up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, SOCOG (the organising body for the Games) released a website that was inaccessible to those using a screen reader (such as Bruce). HREOC requested that SOCOG take remedial action to bring the site up to standard. They did not, and were fined $20,000 (with around $500,000 in legal costs). Not being accessibility standards compliant can cost you dearly – financially and in terms of reputation. It is not just the fear of legal action however that should drive accessibility compliant websites and applications – making a website accessible and easy to use means that people will want to use it – increasing the chances that the site will meet the objectives it was created for.
One question from the audience was whether open source CMS applications were WCAG accessibility compliant. Gian indicated that generally they weren’t but that WordPress was reasonable, and that she would like to investigate this further. This got me thinking whether or not this work had been previously attempted – so headed on over to check out http://cmsmatrix.org/. I’m not sure how deep CMS Matrix checks in terms of accessibility, however none of the top CMSs stack up very wel…
Gian went on to discuss the differences between WCAG Version 1 and the newly released Version 2 – essentially Version 2 attempts to be technology agnostic and provide general guidance.
When questions about effective ways to promote accessibility practices, Gian responded
“If you already adhere to best practices – you’re 80% of the way there. If people know what they’re doing, then it shouldn’t cost any more to develop a standards compliant website”